I stared at the Highlights cursive workbook.
“I have to practice again? For another 2 hours?”
My mother pressed her finger against the cover of the workbook and nodded. “Yes, you have to practice script everyday for at least 2 hours. You can’t have bad handwriting. People will think that you are uneducated, and your thank you notes will look ugly. You will be grateful one day that I made you do this.”
My shoulders slumped and I sighed deeply.
I had just completed 3 hours of math lessons with my mother, and now I had to practice cursive? My lower lip protruded, but I knew that it would not be beneficial to me if I objected.
My mother would not listen to me anyway. I lifted my pencil, opened the cursive workbook, and proceeded to mimic the cursive letters on the page. Slowly, very slowly.
Why did I have to practice cursive?
And then I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
Rebecca is a novel about the late first wife told from the perspective of the second wife. The second wife believes that the first wife, Rebecca, is a paragon of virtue, the perfect wife and hostess, with impeccable penmanship. As you read the novel, you realize that Rebecca is anything but a paragon. But when I first read this novel as a twelve-year old, I did not care about Rebecca, Maxim, or the second wife, but about the scene descriptions. I could taste all the crumpets, tea, and feel the crispness of the notepaper and the richness of the ink as words flowed across the notepaper.
In particular, one scene inspired me to practice my penmanship more assiduously:
I pulled a sheet of notepaper towards me. I took up the narrow, slender pen, with the bright pointed nib. “Dear Mrs. Van Hopper,” I began. And as I wrote, in halting, labored fashion, saying I hoped the voyage had been good, that she had found her daughter better, that the weather in New York was fine and warm, I noticed for the first time how cramped and unformed was my own handwriting; without individuality, without style, uneducated even, the writing of an indifferent pupil taught in a second-rate school.
After reading this scene several times, I went through my handwritten journals, and turned my notebooks upside down and sideways. How did my penmanship look? Did it seem indifferent and indistinctive? Cramped?
Forget about the Highlights cursive workbooks – I did not want my penmanship to look like it came out of a workbook. I looked around for great penmanship examples, and focused on my orthodontist receptionist’s copperplate penmanship and started imitating it.I carefully dotted the “i’s,” crossed the “t’s,” and experimented with my cursive loops, widths, and flourishes.
Then our family received a series of “thank you” notes from a cousin. She had beautiful penmanship, but it was more rounded and even. I stared at the words on the notepaper and traced them carefully with a pencil. I abandoned the extravagant loops and flourishes for careful, even, and rounded.
So, for the next ten years, I flipped back and forth between loops, widths, and flourishes, and careful, even, and rounded, until I realized that no one cared about my penmanship obsession. The recipients would not be tracing loops or rounded edges when they read my letters and notes. Instead, they would be tracing emotions as they recalled our adventures and mishaps together while reading my letter or note.
Highlights workbook or Rebecca – the important thing was that I had a tool – penmanship – to relay memories and to express gratitude to new and old friends. Practicing penmanship and trying to develop my own style were what I needed to feel adequate when I expressed myself to others in writing.
No one actually cared how my handwriting appeared as long as it was legible, and the memories I recalled made them laugh or cry.
My penmanship enables me to transit emotions across the ethos. As I begin Minimum Viable Video soon and resign myself to looking foolish, I must remember that none of this is about me. Instead, I must focus on:
Thanking someone for sharing his or her life with me,
Creating memories worth remembering and recalling,
And for being who they are.
Video or penmanship – express gratitude to others but also to yourself for taking time to collect memories.
Because you will always have something to share.
For those who would like to read a handwritten version, please see the button below. I actually wrote this blog entry out by hand and then created a PDF.